When Tasmanians vote, most would assume that whichever party wins government will protect the national interest by supporting jobs.
However, in an extraordinary rejection of the national interest, the Turnbull Government wants to change shipping laws in a way specifically designed to destroy jobs, including Tasmanian jobs.
This is written clearly into the legislation.
Under the Shipping Legislation Amendment Bill, which passed through the House of Representatives on October 14, foreign-flagged vessels paying third world wages will be free to undercut Australian shipping companies on domestic cargo trade.
Australian vessels, required to pay Australian-level wages, will be unable to compete.
Economic modelling in the legislation confirms the government’s intentions.
It says: “Many of the operators currently operating under the Australian General Register would likely re-flag their vessels in order to compete with the foreign operators who enjoy the benefit of comparatively lower wages rates”.
The modelling says that there are currently six Australian-flagged vessels working the non-bulk Bass Strait trade.
It states (on page 152) that under the changes: “We assume four vessels will register under a foreign register to reduce operating costs”.
That is, four Australian vessels operating out of Tasmania that will sack local crews and replace them with cheaper foreign labour.
Tasmanian company Searoad told a recent Senate hearing into the legislation that if it reflagged it would have to make 54 employees redundant, including 26 in Tasmania.
The company also made clear that the legislation will put at risk its investment of $200 million in two new ships for the Bass Strait trade.
It is in Australia’s national interest to retain a vibrant local shipping industry.
This is why existing arrangements put in place by the former Labor Government allow foreign flagged vessels to work our domestic trade routes but require them to pay Australian pay rates to maintain a level playing field.
This was one element of a wide-ranging strategy to support Australian shipping that also included a $12 million boost to the Australian Maritime College in Launceston.
This globally recognised facility, which teaches the skills required in the maritime industry, is a credit to Australia and to Launceston in particular.
But under the Turnbull reforms, its graduates won’t have jobs to go to.
No wonder students held a Save our Seafarers rally early in October and have produced a petition asking the Prime Minister to think again.
Supporting Australian shipping is not just about jobs.
While Australian flagged vessels have great safety records, all of the major maritime accidents that have damaged our environment in recent years involved foreign flagged vessels including the Pasha Bulker, the Shen Neng I and the Pacific Adventurer.
There are also clear synergies between our naval fleet and our merchant fleet that mean there are good national security reasons for maintaining a strong local industry.
No other G20 nation allows a free for all on coastal trade.
In the United States, for example, the Jones Act requires that all domestic shipping is conducted using American-built ships, which are owned and crewed by Americans. Foreign vessels are banned.
This is because the US understands that it is its economic, environmental and security interests to maintain a vibrant local industry.
In this context, the Turnbull Government is an act of senseless unilateral economic disarmament.
That is why Labor, the Greens political party and independents Andrew Wilkie and Senator Jacqui Lambie have made clear they will stand up for jobs and reject this legislation in the national interest.
This piece was published on the 16th of November 2015 in The Examiner.